The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

TEDx Preview

Haider Saleem previews TedxUniversityOfManchester


If the last two Pangaea events weren’t your thing and you’re looking for something a little more intellectual, then all hope is not lost. TEDx is once again coming to Manchester.

TEDxManchester will take place at the University of Manchester on Sunday, 2 March 2014 at the Manchester Academy.

This will be the third TEDxManchester conference. The first conference was in 2009 at the old BBC’s building on Oxford Road. However, this time they are collaborating with TEDxUniversityOfMancheter and this year’s conference promises to be the “biggest TEDx event in Manchester”.

Diversity Office, Omar Aljuhani initiated this event, and organised it with the help of three other managers. Approximately 40 student-volunteers were recruited in the summer and have assisted in making this conference happen, covering all the main active roles. The four active roles which makes up the TEDxManchester team consists of Management and Finance, Marketing, Design and IT, Speakers Team and Logistics.

TED conferences bring together some of the world’s most interesting speakers to talk about their lives, achievements and ideas. Previous speakers include US President Bill Clinton and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. TEDx events are the same; however focus on a more local level. The ‘x’ means it is an independently organised TED event. Conferences are non-profit and speakers are not paid. The mission is ‘spreading ideas’. Speakers do not have to be from any specific background, but be innovative and influential speakers.

So who speaks at a TEDx event? Well, that is completely up to the organisers and who agrees to come. All the volunteers proposed ideas and names and from there send out as many invitations as possible. The categories are as such: high and low profile speakers which then further divide into sub-categories in a variety of different fields, such as, artists, authors, activists, entrepreneurs and journalists.

The speaker list may not have former US presidents or founders of a multinational corporation, nevertheless some speakers are certainly well known in their fields.

Independent documentary maker and activist Harry Fear is well know for his reports on the Gaza Strip. His short documentary ‘Martyred in Gaza’ has over 44,000 views on YouTube. He also lectures on media bias in Europe, North America, Australasia and Malaysia.

Controversial stock market and forex trader Alessio Rastani – who has spoken previously twice at the University of Manchester during a public debate and at a MUTIS conference ­­– will also feature. He is known for his comments made live on the BBC:

“I have a confession, which is I go to bed every night, I dream of another recession.”

Rastani was widely accused of being a hoax, part of the infamous Yes Men who are a culture jamming activist duo whose pranks have include George W. Bush and The New York Times. However, the BBC themselves “carried out detailed investigations and can’t find any evidence to suggest that the interview… was a hoax” and the Yes Men have denied any affiliation with Rastani.

One notable speaker includes children’s author and creative writing expert, Antony Lishak. Speaking to Lishak, who has been a primary school teacher for over 30 years, you could feel his passion and his reasons for participating at the conference were clear.

“The curriculum has become so ridged, kids aren’t encourage to write what they want.”

He wants to address the problems that primary school children are facing today in creative writing. Teachers are not doing enough to help children become writers. Lishak directs blame at the national curriculum, not the teachers, as it focuses on “ticking boxes” regarding spelling and grammar. While Lishak recognises their importance – he argues that this produces an education system in which teachers cannot encourage children to “explore their imagination” and where students are “afraid to make their own mistakes and learn from them”. He added, “The education system creates a culture of fear…and is felt by teachers too.” When asked which is the one audience he wants to reach out too, he responded with “young teachers, to give them more spark.”

Two students from the University of Manchester have also been given a chance to speak and were asked to submit a online application, from which Gulwali Passarlay, a political refugee who made the incredible journey from Afghanistan to the UK, and the Vice president of Manchester Entrepreneurs Waleed Lakhani have been selected.

Omar Aljuhani said that the main thing this event brings is ‘an alternate experience to the Student Union…Something in the middle’ where one side is serious, the other, Pangaea.

“People should come to this event to get inspired by different people, know new stuff.”

Who is Omar most looking forward to speaking? Aravind Vijayaraghavan who will be speaking about Graphene, which was discovered in the Physics department at the University of Manchester.

Professors Andre Gein and Kostya Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010 for being the first to isolate the two dimensional material. It is the thinnest material known yet surprisingly it is also one of the strongest. Graphene is a carbon sheet – one atom thick and 200x stronger than steal. It is the lightest, most conductive man made material on earth, it can stretch, bend and is almost completely transparent.

According to a promotional video “a Graphene string thinner than human hair could support the weight of a grand piano.” It has the potential to revolutionise medicine, particularly in cancer research. Other uses include storage and transport, and even transforming the clothes we wear everyday.

“This amazing discovery is hardly known, even though they [the university] have spent so much making promoting it. Hopefully people will be made aware of this at the conference.”

Don’t be put off by the lack of celebrity speakers– you will be surprised by how stimulating some talks can be, even in fields you might not normally be interested in. There will certainly be more than one inspirational speaker. Ever speaker has either done or is currently doing something special –no doubt there will be some thought provoking and eye opening discourse. You could call it the ‘academic Pangaea’.

The future, Omar believes, is that the TEDx conferences will continue for years to come, and hopes one day to acquire a licence to take it global. Who knows, maybe in a few years time Omar may make a TED appearance at a TEDxManchester conference.

Tickets are £30 and are available online, with over 700 sold already they are expected to sell out. The University of Manchester Faculty of Humanities have provided financial support and are offering discounted ticket prices by £5 for any full time student using the promotion code ‘HUMANITIES’. The Offer is limited to the first 50 students.